What causes elbow problems?
Elbow problems can be the result of:
- an injury from sport
- repetitive movements of the elbow
- normal age-related changes
Problems on the outside of your elbow are often called tennis elbow, and on the inside, golfers elbow.
Can elbow pain cause problems elsewhere?
You may feel some pain in the muscles around your elbow and down to your wrist. You may also have altered feeling into your fingers. These should improve as your elbow problem gets better.
Occasionally, problems felt in your elbow can be due to a neck problem. This can happen even when you don't feel pain in your neck. People with this sort of problem often describe the pain as pins and needles, sharp, hot or burning pain.
If you have any of these symptoms it would be helpful to read about neck problems.
There are a number of things you can do to help your elbow problem.
Keeping your elbow moving is an essential part of your treatment and recovery.
How to get moving
Within the first 24 to 48 hours after your elbow problem has started you should try to:
- reduce your activities but move as much as your symptoms allow
- put your arm in a supported position if it's comfortable, when resting
- move your elbow gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you're awake
After 48 hours:
- try to use your elbow more - exercise really helps your elbow and can relieve pain
- do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work - this is important and is the best way to get better
It's beneficial to do specific exercises that can help in your recovery. They may be challenging at the beginning so just do what you can and try to build it up over time.
Exercises to help with elbow problems
Benefits of keeping active
Keeping active is the single best thing you can do for your general health.
Being physically active can:
- maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
- keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
- prevent a recurrence of the problem
- help you aim for a healthy body weight
Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement.
The following can help to reduce the pain:
- pain medication - this can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery
- heat or ice packs
More about taking painkillers.
Treating with ice or heat
Heat or ice can be beneficial in the management of musculoskeletal pain.
Ice is most beneficial if your elbow problem is related to an injury. You can try heat to help your pain levels if there's no swelling and your symptoms are not related to a recent injury.
Never place ice or heat directly on your skin. Use a barrier, like a towel, to protect your skin from a burn.
How long you use ice as a treatment can vary. However, you should generally apply heat or ice for up to 15 minutes. You should also leave a few hours between treatments.
You should stop treating the area with ice or heat and seek advice from a medical professional if you notice an increase in redness, discolouration or blistering of the skin.
If you have any issues with circulation or sensation, you shouldn't use ice or heat as a treatment for elbow pain.
It's recommended you stay at or return to work as quickly as possible during your recovery. You don't need to be pain and symptom-free to return to work.
Help and support
Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time.
You should see the biggest change in your symptoms within the first couple of weeks. Most problems should have improved within 6 weeks.
If your elbow problem hasn’t improved within 6 weeks of following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.
Find out how to access MSK services in your area.